|Plot Outline: After a martial arts school ruled by a bitter and evil man seeks power by confronting one of the best schools in China, the bad school ends up losing heavily. That is, until the final contestant for the evil school comes out to take the place of his fallen comrades, a Japanese samurai enters the ring and kills one of the less skilled martial artists from the good team. This leads to anger, and Shi Shang (Lo Meng) steps to the plate and beats the dog mess out of the samurai. Being that loss of a fight means loss of a life for a samurai, he intends to commit suicide. Before he does though, he warns the leader of the good school that in the coming days a Ninja will come to China and will then take revenge. After saying his farewells, the Samurai tosses a poisoned blade into the palm of the master’s hand, which then causes him not to be able to perform Kung Fu for a few weeks. After a while though, the school is given a competition letter from “The Five Elements”, and five separate destinations where the best students are supposed to meet. Everyone figures it’s a trap, but they go on ahead… and they all die. This leaves only the very best students left at the school, and the Ninjas have planted a spy in the clan and plan to kill everyone inside. All I have to say is that revenge will be served.|
Like any Chinese film focused on the Japanese, the film has just a wee bit of a bias towards the other culture. The atrocities by the Japanese during World War II were only a few decades old at this point and most certainly not forgiven by the film’s target demographic, so what are you going to do. Even though in the light of politically correct mind control, er, I mean tolerance levels, the film may come off a slight bit harsh towards the Japanese, but it’s hardly all that bad. I found The Chinese Connection (my second favorite Bruce Lee film) to be harsher in their presentation of the Japanese, something that Bruce Lee himself didn’t like about making that film. No, I wouldn’t say Ninjas is really a denouncement of the Japanese or anything to that effect, maybe just a strange look at one culture through the directors lens of another. The film begins with voice over telling us “The very costumes and weapons in this film are based on Japanese ancient catalogues and collections”, but I can’t really tell if they seriously mean this for all of the costumes or not. If the five element ninjas are seriously supposed to be direct reflections on Japanese history, then we’re crossing over into the land of ridiculous make believe. To think that any self respecting ninja would dress himself up in a shiny golden jump suit and flash around a shiny hat. I find that hard to believe, but I have my doubts as to whether the opening voice over was added by the distributor or not. Basically, if that voice over doesn’t establish from the very beginning that the movie isn’t going to be the most serious film ever, then you had best check your critical thought at the door because this film is going to be having none of it. The film almost demands to have audience participation, I mean you have to get into the film to truly have fun with it. With the exception of Crippled Avengers, Chinese Super Ninjas is the one Chang Cheh film where, even when I’m alone, I tend to find myself commenting on the film as I watch it. Sometimes riffing on it like Mystery Science Theater 3000, sometimes just commenting on how absurd and humorous the film is, I find myself needing to comment on it in some form of another regardless. It’s a pure popcorn film, even by Kung Fu standards, the violence may deter some from eating but I swear to you that other than a lot of blood packets being splattered, there’s truly nothing to be frightened of. Actually, I believe the version I have seen and the one most readily available to most people is an edited copy. In the uncensored version I think we actually get some nudity as well as more blood, and for all I know the final death sequence has been eliminated as well. I’m not going to let that be too much of a distraction for me though, if it’s edited then it is, I’m not aware of a fully uncut copy out there but if I happen upon it I’ll certainly get it as soon as possible. For the moment, I’m perfectly happy with the version I know and love. It’s violent already, and it’s perfectly built from the bottom brick up, whether this is your type of architecture or not is going to be a personal decision. For me and the many others out there, Chinese Super Ninjas may not be the most technically proficient work of Chang Cheh, but man is it ever fun to watch.
Chang Cheh is as steady as ever in his development of the story. The plot is a little bit stranger here than some of his other films I’ve seen, but he guides us through enough ‘story’ to get us into the action scenes without seeming like a complete lack of creative thought towards storytelling. In fact, the addition of our hero not actually having anything to really fight for (and of course learn a new martial art) until the second half of the film is already somewhat riskier than what the majority of his peers were doing at the same exact time. Cheh doesn’t go out of his way in building up the characters in the film as it would likely take away from the pacing and impact, but we get enough of our character’s sense of honor, loyalty, etc. to know just what they are about. Shao Tien-Hao, who as well as having a fairly cool sounding name, is a pretty interesting protagonist. Played by Cheng Tien-chi, who never really worked a whole lot, the character is about as bizarre of an anti-hero as you’re going to find. He’s essentially a jerk throughout the majority of the film, but after his training in the ninja arts, he’s an even bigger jerk! Labeling him a ‘jerk’ might be a bit harsh come to think of it, but he is without remorse even when he does wrong in the latter half of the film. For those who have seen it, you know what I’m talking about, but then again the moral complexity (I’m serious here) of the separate characters in the film kind of makes defining any character’s actions as logical or even ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Okay, I think I have gotten a wee bit too pretentious for this type of review so I should move on. The film also stars my personal favorite of the Venoms Clan, Lo Meng. You may remember him as The Toad from Five Venoms, or the Deaf-Mute Man from Crippled Avengers, Lo Meng seems like one of the most over-looked Kung Fu actors out there. Sure he has his own select audience, but modern cinema goers may never know his brilliance. He was just the right parts of giant hulking pound of muscle, and nimble and flexible martial artist. There was nothing this man couldn’t do, and as far as being intimidating, no member of the Clan or any other actor I can think of can match him. He had this aura of being cool, but could also slam your face into the ground before you could get to the fourth letter in the alphabet. Putting it in simple terms, the man was bad, bad to the bone. The majority of the cast are people whom I do not recognize right off the bat. Probably just people Chang Cheh & Co. were friends with and such, no real stars that I could point out. This film was made in the early eighties when the whole industry was almost on it’s last legs. Right before Jackie Chan re-invented what could be done in a modern Kung Fu film, and certainly well before John Woo changed the face of action. It would prove to be Chang Cheh’s last world renowned classic within the genre, and I can think of no better way to remember him by. It’s not my favorite film from him, I’ll readily admit it, but I do fawn at the mouth over it and I do love it on equal ground with many other films I consider easy classics. It’s a light hearted, fun to watch, bloody Kung Fu movie and for the time it was made, it conquered all.